Thursday, December 27, 2018

COME AND GET IT ~~ Something Tasty From The Americana Kitchen

For the past year, I’ve been listening to a large amount of Americana music thinking about putting together a new radio show to feature the genre. While I’ve always enjoyed the different elements of Americana, it’s still been a steep learning curve, and fortunately I’ve had a number of people turning me on to great artists that I’ve never explored.
One of my publicist friends recently sent me a great collection titled Come And Get It from a collective known as Americana Kitchen. The brainchild of Danny Johnson, who wrote all of the songs on the two albums, he brought together great musicians and vocalists to explore different sounds.
On several occasions, Johnson and his colleagues delivered several interpretations of the same song. Each one highlighted a different approach and many of them are exciting and no matter what style you might enjoy, you’re bound to find something that will impress you.
The first album is made up of 10 tracks from 5 different artists: “Jumping Jack” Benny Cortez, Michael Sanchez, Francesca Capasso, Michelle Sanchez, and Andee Avila. First up is Hard Love with Cortez taking the lead on vocals. A pop rock tune with nice keyboard and saxophone breaks, it’s a pleasant enough song and certainly whets your appetite for the other songs on the album. It’s easy to see that this song would get airplay on the Top 40 stations.
The next song, New World, features Michael Sanchez getting funky. The electric piano is exhilarating and the beat is infectious. I remember a few nights in hazy nightclubs listening to music like this. The lyrics have a strong backbone, and while I don’t listen to a whole lot of modern funk, this is a song I could get behind.
Francesca Capasso follows up with You Better Think Twice, with a jazzy cabaret inspired touch. Love the sax and bass combo that accompanies the piano intro. Capasso’s voice is low and sultry and beckons you into the world of the song. Occasionally I get to sit in for our regular jazz host, and the next time I do, I’m slipping this song into my playlist. Love this one and can’t wait to hear more from Capasso.
Next up is “Jumping Jack” Benny Cortez again with the first appearance of Blood Of The Blues. It’s also first appearance of straight up blues on the album. Cortez sinks his teeth into the number and the band tightens up to create a great sound for him. Listen for a sweet guitar break that should appeal to any blues guitar lover. Definitely a contender to appear on Time For The Blues.
Capasso is back for the next song, Run Little Red. Here she takes on a pop/rock tune with a voice that starts out so different from the approach she used on You Better Think Twice. She’s definitely versatile, and when she moves from the sweet cutie pie opening to the sexy growl she uses for the rest of the Chuck Berry-inspired song, it truly comes to life. She’s definitely 2-for-2 on this album, and I’m already searching her name to try to find other releases that feature her work.
Michael and Michelle Sanchez team up on In Real Life, an R&B soul song that would be at home on any album by Luther Vandross. I’ll be putting this one on my late evening playlists as I try to get mellow after a long day of putting up with stuff. It’s sweet, strong, and thoroughly intoxicating.
Campasso is back with some exciting roadhouse rock and roll on Living Out Loud. She just kicks it from first note to last and it’s the kind of song that’s loud and out of control. The band is rocking hard and I doubt any person seeing this live would remain in their song for more than a few bars before getting up and shaking it on the dance floor. Hell, I don’t even drink anymore and I was looking around for a cold beer during this song!
Speaking of Capasso, for the next song, she teams up with Andee Avila. They join forces for The Christmas Song, not the one by Mel Tormé with chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but a pop rock ballad with country overtones. It’s not exactly my cup of eggnog, but it will find a way into rotation during the holidays for sure. There’s some great guitar work and the vocals are strong.
Cortez is back for the next song, a blues tune titled Catch That Train. Oh yeah, it rocks, and it should be going out over our airwaves very soon. It’s a solid shuffle and Cortez performs the song with a great deal of verve. This song could grace just about any Chicago stage, and should bring a smile to any blues lover’s face.
This album closes out with one last song from Francesca Capasso, Blood Of The Blues, that she interprets as modern jazz. The lyrics have lost none of their power in this interpretation, the musicians set up a beautiful background for her, and I’ll be playing this one on sometime when I’m sitting in for our jazz host. Great song, it just be my favorite on this first album.
I can’t wait to see what’s on the second album in this collection. Fortunately, I only have to wait long enough to cue up the next one.
I’m in luck as the first song also belongs to Francesca Capasso. This song is a pop country track called All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go, and even though I’m a big traditional country fan, I’m just not the audience for this particular genre. It’s not bad and when I played it for a few friends who are fans, they all agreed that it was one they enjoyed and would like to add to their collections.
Next up is an interesting experiment as Cortez delivers a country take on a song he performed as a pop rock tune on the first album. Hard Love has a little more old school flavor than All Dressed Up, but even though Cortez can rock the vocals, this version just seemed like it was searching for a comfortable sound that the performers just couldn’t make happen. Not my favorite track, although I did like the fiddle and thought it sounded more like a Celtic interpretation than a country one.
Capasso comes back on the next song, a bluegrass interpretation of Living Out Loud. You may find this hard to believe, but I absolutely love bluegrass, and this song is a lot of fun with enough energy for any punk band. Capasso’s voice rips through the song and the interplay between the instruments is infectious and could bring a smile to a statue! Even if you don’t usually care for bluesgrass, you just might find yourself slipping into a pair of clogging shoes and moving around a bit.
Big Mike Vasquez makes an appearance on the Cajun inspired Just Fine For Now. You have to love the sound of an button accordion playing off the rhythm section and guitar. Vasquez has a good voice that’s warm and inviting at the same time. I like this one a lot.
Capasso then performs a solo version of The Christmas Song in a pop country fashion, and while the song again doesn’t do it for me, I hear some lovely things in her voice. I might have even been tempted to cut it further down and see how it would sound in more of a folk vein. Don’t know what she would have done with it, but I still love her voice in a big way. What a find!
Michelle Sanchez is next with So Tired Of Runnin’. You can hear the Eagles’ influence in the country rock sounds of the song. It’s a little heavier on the country than the rock, but that’s just me splitting hairs. It’s a nice ballad and will find a lot of people who will love it.
Cortez is back with his bluesy take on You Better Think Twice. The guitar work sounds like it just rolled in off the delta and the rhythm section delivers a great pocket. The song works well in either genre, jazz or blues. I can easily see this one making it onto a show, especially with that great harp break.  
Michelle Sanchez returns with the gospel number, Jesus I’ve Got A Friend In You. It starts off slow and easy like a beautiful Sunday dawn and Sanchez’ voice rises to fill up all the space around. It’s easy to be flip and just say that gospel has a lot of soul, but if you ever get a chance to listen to more than one or two songs, you’ll discover that it’s some of the deepest felt music around. This is a good number that should leave your spiritual cup filled and a smile on your face. Sweet and uplifting.
Michael Sanchez returns for his bluesy version of Catch That Train. This version has a harder edge than the version on the first album and will most likely be the version that we play on Time For The Blues. I can even see this version popping up in the repertoire of bar bands all across the country and I can see people really enjoying it. You heard that here first!
This album ends with one last song from Francesca Capasso. She delivers a country rock ballad of Blood Of The Blues. It starts off nice and dark (just as you might think with a title like that) and it sounds like a very cool noir tune. I don’t really hear the country version of the song and Capasso’s voice actually gave me chills a couple of times. This one is already on my private playlist, and expect me to pull it out at a later date when I want to create a heavier mood.
Okay, two albums with a number of songs with various interpretations that shows how music can be interpreted in a variety of ways. When you see the Americana label on songs, what do you envision? Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of it, and I’ve found that the label stretches to cover a number of great genres. Blues, folk, country, bluegrass, gospel, Cajun, and others get mixed together, much like the United States did with all of the people who came here and brought their music with them. For many musicians, music does not have borders, music just is. It’s good or bad, it moves you or it doesn’t. Much of this music moves me, and those songs that don’t, are still interesting and I’m glad I’ve heard them.
Americana Kitchen has given me a better appreciation of artists who were not on my radar, but will be from now on. Is this the beginning of a new series of albums? I sure hope so.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Time For The Blues ~~ December 22, 2018

Santa Blues Needs A New Headshot
My favorite reindeer wrangler and head elf, Henry Cook and I – your once a year pal Santa Blues – hope you will join us on Time For The Blues this Saturday night, December 22nd, at 10 p.m. as we bring you some swinging, singing, deck the halls, honest to gosh, Holiday Blues! We’ve got some great new material for you (same old jokes, though) along with one or two favorites from years gone by.

The world gets stressful at this time of year, let us bring some presents for you. You won’t even have to unwrap them or even haul the tree out to the curb afterwards.

Henry and I truly enjoy this time of year as for Henry it generally means a much needed few days off to visit friends and family and to recharge his batteries, for Santa B it means a chance to catch up on those things that Mrs. Professor – I mean Mrs. Blues – needs done around the igloo. The elves get the day off and so does she, so Rudolph, the other reindeer and I pull household duty, but still get to listen to all sorts of amazing music.

How amazing? Well, for starters, we’ve got brand new holiday albums from both Mindi Abair And The Boneshakers and Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers. Since most of you have been so good this year, and you naughty ones know who you are, I’m going to drop two songs from each of these talented women on you during the show.

As long as we’re playing brand new releases, we’ve also got one from New Orleans singer Rockie Charles. We’re also very excited to be able to play a brand new, hot of the presses, great holiday song from our dear friend Bobby BlackHat.  Bobby’s song is called Moonlight Mistletoe And You, and you can get your very own copy for free. The information can be found here on his website

**Self Aggrandizing Promo** John will be appearing as the emcee again this year at Bobby BlackHat’s  New Year’s Eve Spectacular held at the beautiful Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg, VA. Aside from Mr. Ambassador, Bobby BlackHat himself, other performers that night will be Parker & Gray, The Little Doors, Fade To Blue and jazz chanteuse Sharon Rae North. Get your tickets here but get ‘em quick because they are almost all gone!**

Just because Santa Blues likes to hear songs about himself, we’ve got numbers from Angela Strehli, The Taildraggers, Lil’ Ed And The Blues Imperials, and William Clarke. There’s also one from Anna Wilson in honor of Mrs. Claus.

Do any of you remember the story of The City Mouse and The Country Mouse? If not, maybe the Tex Avery cartoon of The City Wolf and The Country Wolf? Look that one up if you haven’t seen it. Well, we’ve got our version with Leon Russell playing Christmas In Chicago and Kenny Neal playing Christmas In The Country. To the best of my knowledge, Russell’s song has never been put on an album, so it’s sometimes hard to find. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Last, but not least is one of our few traditions here at Time For The Blues, Marvin Gaye enjoying those Purple Snowflakes. A few folks have asked me how that became a tradition and it involves my late brother Rocky leaving me his entire music collection. That included approximately 700 CDs that more than doubled our library and a few of them were Christmas Blues compilations – one of which had Purple Snowflakes on it. We played it, liked it, and it was a nice way to honor my late brother.

Got to keep those good Christmas connections handy. And when you find family – by blood or by choice, it’s good to remember whatever good times you have.

As the holiday season is a good time for giving, I would like to ask you to consider giving to a great cause. Our dear friend, Dr. Anita Schlank, has written, along with blues superstar Tab Benoit, a great book on blues artists, mental illness, and the use of music as a therapy. She’s raising money to get it published properly and you can be a part of it by clicking here. () And before you ask, no, I’m not in the book as I don’t consider myself any kind of a musician, but I too use blues music to treat my depression and anxiety. It’s good for what ails ya…

So, if you’re up on Saturday wrapping presents or relaxing after a day of shopping, we’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser to here or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 WCVE-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!

And if you were wondering, Henry and I consider you to be a very important member of our family. Whatever holiday you might celebrate - or even if you don't, we wish you happiness, laughter, and lots of great music for the future!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mindi Abair And The Boneshakers ~~ All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues

Mindi Abair is a smart woman. She’s the first one out of the gate with a Christmas album this year, AND she made sure that All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues is a killer album that will receive its share of airplay year after year. Hot on the heels of The EastWest Sessions and her hit song Pretty Good For A Girl is this album that utilizes her special blend of smoky sultriness with kick ass riffs.
Starting off with the title track, All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues, is about as blues as you can get with a strong bassline and Abair’s voice smokes. If this song isn’t included in every blues program’s Holiday show, there is no justice. The band blends beautifully with some extra sweet keyboards. If we could get more blues like this for Christmas, I would be very happy.
She follows up with some wailing sax on I Can't Wait For Christmas. It’s a driving song that really rocks. Aside from her great voice, Abair is a great sax player and she uses it to perfectly punctuate her songs. Some players can get carried away and almost drown a song, or move it more into the realm of jazz. Abair knows that fine line and uses her sax to give her that bigger sound without going too far. Love it!
The guitars give Merry Christmas Baby a real swinging delta sound and listen carefully to the percussion. I like this rocker a lot and know that it’s going to become a staple on my year-end playlist. Can I just say that I love Abair’s attitude and approach to her music? In the space of two short albums (plus one earlier jazzy one that I found at my favorite record store) I have become a huge fan and look forward to the day when our paths will cross.
Abair and company get a little more sentimental with the next song, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Don’t get me wrong, the song still rocks, but there’s a little sugar added to the mix. That doesn’t stop Abair from dropping a hot sax break that soars high in the middle of the song.
She keeps the sentimentality going with The Best Part Of Christmas. Light guitar and keys contrast with the more powerful songs that have preceded it. It’s a gorgeous ballad that tugs at your heart and makes you want to stare out of a snowy window while sipping a big mug of hot chocolate. Abair can make you rock and turn on a dime and make your heart ache.
Abair turns her attention to several well-known holiday songs, starting with Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree. It has that nice old-school rock ‘n’ roll feel and just makes you smile and tap your toes. The sax really adds to the flavor of the song. Next up is her take on the Mel Tormé classic, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). It’s a straight forward instrumental that showcases Abair’s great sax playing. There are a few unique touches, but for the most part, it offers up a faithful interpretation. She then takes on Chuck Berry’s Run Run Rudolph and gives it that breathless interpretation that the song demands. It’s a fun version that sounds like it was recorded at the band’s Christmas party. Lots of energy.
Abair closes out the album with Christmas Fool, a song with some decided country stylings. Its been a minute since I heard a blues song with a jaw harp in it, and this song sounds like it came straight from the delta. There’s a male singer handling the vocals, and I’ll need to get his name for the blog (left my notes back at the office, sorry). Hand clapping front porch style instrumentation makes this one a lot of fun and the perfect song to end the album.

Santa Blues sez "Give More Blues!"
Mindi Abair And The Boneshakers is one of the best things going. Don’t wait to pick this one up, because you’ll want to play it the entire holiday season. Want to find out more about the group? Try their website, and if you’re looking for that perfect gift, remember music is always a perfect fit.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Professor's Honor Roll - The Best of 2018

What do you think Dad? Did I miss anyone...
We have reached that time of year again when we, like the god Janus, look backward and forwards at the same time. The year 2018 was a strange and wild one, but then, isn’t every year a bit of a rollercoaster? With the return of this post, I am planning to return to daily blogging and reviewing as I have missed it greatly. Those of you who have reached out encouraging me to get back to it, I thank you.
Looking back, let’s take a look at some of the best albums from December 2017 to the end of November 2018 and see some of the best the year had to offer. There are albums from old favorites and a lot from artists new to me. I wish I could say this is a definitive list, but by no means can I do that – there are so many albums that I never got my greedy hands on, but this is a good start.  
Joyann Parker is new to me and her album, Hard To Love, was a great surprise. Parker’s got that growl that just makes me sit up, listen, and leaves me wanting more. There’s power in this woman’s voice and she quickly became one of my favorites.
Willie Jackson’s EP, Chosen By The Blues, was a revelation. Jackson’s vocals against a traditional blues group with rolling bass, tight percussion, and harp work that would have made any traditional blues lover happy, this is a sweet collection of songs from a man who has obviously living the blues, not just playing them.
Two great albums (and three very good ones) came from Virginia this year. The first, James RiVAh, was released by our friends The Bush League. This is the album where they turned the corner and delivered a work that comes the closest to capturing their live magic. JohnJason Cecil’s vocals are the strongest they’ve ever been and the infusion of Northern Mississippi mojo makes this a magnificent addition to our collection. The other is from another great pal, Bobby “BlackHat” Walters who gave us the remarkable Put On Your Red Shoes. Bobby BlackHat is Virginia’s Ambassador to the Blues and every release is a cause for celebration. His latest album is no exception and is much like his live performance, entertaining and exciting. Get them both!
Honorable Mentions for Virginia Artists: In Layman Terms with Strong Roots, Josh Lief with Love In Disguise, and while it’s not full on blues, Amy Henderson with her debut release May is a fine roots album. Okay, that last one came out in 2017, but I didn’t get a copy until 2018. Blogger’s prerogative…
One of my favorites is the great Buddy Guy, whom I got to see twice this year as he toured to promote The Blues Is Alive And Well. In Guy’s capable hands, the blues are most definitely alive and well and he added contributions from the likes of Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Frank Bey, and Keith Richards. Time to pause and have a sip of con-ee-ac. Another well-known name who released a strong album this year is Boz Scaggs, who dropped Out Of The Blues. Scaggs has been playing rock shuffles for most of his career, but he started out steeped in the blues and returns to form on this album.
I was a little late to the party for Little Boys Blue with their previous album, Tennissippi, but was glad that I was right on time for their latest album, Little Boys Blue with Kid Memphis, as they released a solid album, Hard Blue Space, from start to finish. The addition of Kid Memphis takes a very good band over the top to become a great band and I expect to hear even more from them in the future.  
The first blues artist to gain national attention through the television show The Voice, Nakia, released Blues Grifter late in the year. It’s bold in its reimagining of several well-known classics in a way that honors the past while putting his own stamp on the songs. Nakia’s voice is strong with plenty of soul, and I have the feeling that this is merely the beginning of a well-developed career.
Two great albums that share the same name were released by Bob Corritore & Friends and Paul Thorn. For both artists, Don't Let The Devil Ride, was a fun filled carnival ride of rocking blues and swinging gospel. Different approaches that delivered strong albums. Now, if we could just get the two of them in to the same recording studio to take a whack of combining their talents. What do you say, gents? We’re all waiting by the holy water with a hip flask of whiskey in our pockets.
Speaking of music with a spiritual bent, we got a slice of gospel pie courtesy of the Reverend Shawn Amos on his album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down. The good reverend is in fine voice and his version of Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding is the finest I’ve ever heard.
I was completely unaware of Tommy DarDar before I received a copy of his posthumously completed album, Big Daddy Gumbo. A labor of love, it was finished by his friends two years after his passing and delivers a lively and wonderful helping of New Orleans flavored music.
Honorable Mention for New Orleans music goes to the self-titled Keith Stone With Red Gravy.
A nice twist on tribute compilations marks the release Delmark put out to celebrate their 65th anniversary, conveniently titled Tribute: Delmark's 65th Anniversary. Instead of just reissuing the well-known songs from their past library, Delmark had a crop of their new artists record songs from the artists who inspired them to play the blues. Love this album! On a similar note, Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty did much the same thing with their celebration of their patriarch, Carey Bell. Tribute to Carey Bell is a loving examination of Bell’s great and often underappreciated skill.
Need some soulful blues in your life? Sure you do. We all do. May I suggest Frank Bey who is in fine form with Back In Business. Bey has not lost a step nor dropped a note and this is one of the sweetest sounding records of the year. It’s one that will often end up on my player in the late evening when I need to end the day in a pleasant way. He’ll do if for you as well.
Guitar slinger Sean Chambers released Welcome To My Blues in 2018 and it was very well received here at Time For The Blues. There’s rarely a shortage of hot guitar players in the blues, and Chambers lives up to his potential on this release. Another great guitarist album comes from our old pal Albert Castiglia who will keep you Up All Night with his release. Other great guitar heavy albums include Tinsley Ellis’ Winning Hand, J.P. SoarsSouthbound I-95, and Mighty Mike Schermer’s Be Somebody. Be sure to catch these guys live, I've seen the all except Chambers and everyone one of them puts on a killer show. And J.P. Soars actually has longer hair than I do, so I'm extremely jealous...
I always enjoy it when an artist gets together with one or more friends to come out with an album that usually fires on all cylinders. One great album came from Mississippi Maestro Mick Kolassa who released Double Standards with the help of several great artists. The combination of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa released the stellar album Black Coffee, Ben Harper And Charlie Musselwhite teamed up on No Mercy In This Land, the trio of Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz, and Giles Robson recently released a great album, Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, the self-titled Myles Goodwyn And Friends Of The Blues arrived from Canada, while the tandem of J.J. Appleton and Jason Ricci joined forces for Beautiful Slop.
Honorable Mentions go to Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Beneck for Spirit/Matter/Truth/Lies and The Knickerbocker All-Stars who enlisted guest vocalists Darcel Wilson and Thornetta Davis for their album Love Makes A Woman.
Old school blues singer Johnny Tucker released a great album, Seven Day Blues. Others came from John Clifton with Nightlife and Artur Menezes with Keep Pushing.
Wonderful piano work was release by Marcia Ball on Shine Bright and by the self-titled Victor Wainwright And The Train.
Finally, three top releases came from women, Meg Williams with her album Maybe Someday. Laurie Jane And The 45s with her celebration of entertainer Sara Martin on Late Last Night - Elixir Of Sara Martin, and that one-woman band of many, Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One with her release Tribe Of One.
So much great music, so little time. Remember, this isn’t exhaustive because I still haven’t been able to check every album that came across my desk this year. Take these for what they are, good albums that I highly recommend and a great place to start when putting together your own list.
Did I miss any? I want to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a note in the comments and maybe another reader will discover those artists you love. Thanks for reading, and come back often to see if there are any new albums you want to hear.